Sometimes I call this season the season of relinquishment. As the sun’s light wanes in the Northern Hemisphere, I find myself encouraged to think of what I might want or need to slough off, to let go of, to put down.
And sometimes what I want to put down or let go of is perhaps not what I most need to put down. Sometimes what I want to put down are the very things that make me who I am. Or at least, the memory and understanding of those things.
Many of you have seen or heard of the Japanese practice of kintsugi. It is the process of repairing broken ceramics with gold in the seams of the broken places. It is a way to honor what has been broken, and can stand in as an honoring of our own brokenness, our own experience.
Kintsugi is one way of saying, This piece, this art, this person has been through experience. Experience that has not stolen its/their innocence or beauty, but which allows them to be beautiful in a new way.
I preached on a similar topic a couple of years ago, “The Myth of Wholeness,” and I used Leonard Cohen’s song-poem, “Anthem” and its famous chorus:
“Ring the bells that still can ring.
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything.
That’s how the light gets in.”
But yesterday, as I was driving up north past Seattle, I thought of something.
The cracks in my life, the traumas, the broken relationships, the inevitable family dysfunctions, the assaults, the illnesses and disabilities, the fat, the things about my past I want to reject, well, what would happen if I rejected them? Who would I be without them?
There is a Latin phrase, amor fati, and it means, “love of fate.”
Sometimes I think I have a little streak of that in me, when I’m not feeling sorry for myself. A love for what has happened to me and what happens to me because it makes me myself. If I were not fat, mentally ill, a sexual assault survivor, white, a cisgender woman, pansexual, well, then I would be someone else. This Catharine would not exist.
And this Catharine is the one I am called out of the Universe, from Earth and Starry Heaven to be. And so what will I reject?
I cannot hold this truth always, and sometimes my mind threatens to oversimplify it.
I’m not saying that “everything happens for a reason.” I am saying, rather, that there is no experience that cannot have good, cannot have light, as it were, come out of it. There is an image online, and if I had permission, I would use it here. It is of a seated woman on a rooftop, with cracks running all through her body. Her head is turned up, her hands are turned up, and bright light is streaming out from each crack in her.
I think, too, of Viktor Frankl, the Shoah survivor and author of Man’s Quest for Meaning, in which he says that there were two ways to go to the gas chambers, “free and unfree.” He recounts the moments of faithful love that he saw, the kindnesses and the gentleness under extreme duress. He became who he became because he went through that experience.
Does that mean the Shoah should have happened?! Does that mean I should have been raped?! Does that mean that violence in the States and all over the world should be allowed to continue?!
The hand of fierce compassion can and must be raised to say, “No” to violence, “No” to oppression, and “No” to the ravages of white supremacy, ableism, and patriarchy, among other things. The hand of fierce compassion must be raised to say, “Stop.” Yes, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice anywhere.”
What I think I’m trying to say, though, is that the crack in everything is potentially how the light gets OUT. What if, instead of gold between the broken places in our lives, we put Light?
And what do I mean here by “light”?
I mean that which illuminates, that will allows others to become more themselves, that which can hear people into speech, and see people into radiance. I mean a Light that is beyond anything that will put us back together, but which instead allows us to reach out with empathy.
Empathy is not some special, supernatural power that only a few of us possess. Empathy is, rather (except in cases of sociopathy), a universal human talent and power that may be expanded and deepened. It is the power we have to see the pain in another, to recognize its echoes of our own pain, and yet not to get lost in our own story.
Empathy allows us to feel with another without simply turning that other into our own story. Empathy allows us to watch, to listen, to feel, to hold, to breathe, to know…to use whatever skills, talents, and senses are available to us to touch another’s pain. To touch it ever so gently. To breathe healing and soothing balm to the wounds of one another.
The people who come to The Way of the River, to Reflections, to this blog, to our shared discussions, to retreat, and to one-to-one sessions with me all bring their—our— human brokenness. We bring places where the culture has tried to smash us into bits, but where we have prevailed with resilience. We bring hurt places, hurt by individual relationships, our own bodies, our own minds, and by the limitless ways it seems this culture teaches us to hurt one another.
We at The Way of the River, and I in particular, are responsible for holding one another with gentleness. I believe it is part of my mission for the cracks in my life to be where the light gets out. I believe in being out about not only being queer, but having been the lover of several trans people and loving them in the complexities and ambivalences of bodies and minds. I believe I need to be open about having been assaulted and being mentally ill. I believe I need to tell the truth about trying to recover, trying to become mentally and physically more able in this body of mine. I believe I need to speak freely about what it’s like to be fat in a fat-hating culture.
In an all-too-frequently fat-hating self, eh? Can I get an amen from the ones who know what I mean?
Yes, it is about my past, my history. And it is also about my current life. It is not holding onto woundedness and saying forever, “I am wounded, here and here, and here.” There is healing to be had. And healing is part of the Light that shines, as well. Healing can be a relinquishment, a sloughing off, and a renewal.
Healing brings hope. And hope is the essence of this Light. The Light that says, “You can go through terrible things and yet not become brittle, smashed into a thousand tiny bits of dust. You can be resilient, and let the Light shine out.”
Touching one another with gentleness, means letting the Light shine through our cracks. Letting freshness and coolness come from within us to refresh those most in need of it. Let our Light be a luminous, numinous one. A Light that is the Divine showing out through the places we thought we needed to scar over, to hide.
Not only reflective gold.